Black gun owners in N.J. say new concealed carry restrictions won’t make their communities safer

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File photo: New Jersey Democratic Senate President Nicholas Scutari opens debate on legislation that overhauls the state's concealed carry permitting, Monday, Dec. 19. 2022, in Trenton, N.J. The measure comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision expanding gun rights and striking down New Jersey's requirement that applicants for a carry permit show a

File photo: New Jersey Democratic Senate President Nicholas Scutari opens debate on legislation that overhauls the state's concealed carry permitting, Monday, Dec. 19. 2022, in Trenton, N.J. The measure comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision expanding gun rights and striking down New Jersey's requirement that applicants for a carry permit show a "justifiable need" for carrying a gun. The new bill imposes liability insurance requirements and bars carrying in certain places like schools and concert venues, among other changes. (AP Photo/Mike Catalini)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is soon expected to sign new regulations revising the state’s concealed carry laws, which removes the justifiable need standard while upping other requirements.

Supporters say it will make the state safer, especially in underserved neighborhoods in cities like Newark, Camden, and Trenton where reports of gun-related crime are among the highest in the state.

However, some gun owners in these historically marginalized communities think the new regulations could further put their neighborhoods at risk.

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Retail gun purchases by Black Americans have surged dramatically in the last two years, according to a survey from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Leon Grauer, a Newark-based licensed attorney and organizer of the New Jersey Black Gun Owners Association said the trend was likely sparked by incidents like the murder of George Floyd and desire to defend from violent crime, especially in underserved neighborhoods.

“A lot of people within the Black community perceive incidents, such as the killing of George Floyd, and other incidents highlighting their need for personal protection,” Grauer said. “Also, in cities that have high crime rates, particularly high violent crime rates, just as in the white community people feel empowered to defend themselves, many people in the Black community feel empowered to have a firearm to defend themselves.”

Grauer claims to know many responsible gun owners in his community who value safety and regulations that don’t infringe on people’s constitutional rights. He asserts many members of his organization believe there’s a common misconception that many New Jerseyans who come from marginalized communities are against gun ownership.

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“Historically, ever since slavery, firearms have been a means of self-defense and self-preservation for Black people in America. There is a perception that perhaps during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, Black people in America, en masse, put down their guns and live by a non-violent strategy, but it’s far from the truth,” Grauer said.

“The non-violent movement was protected by groups of Black people, Black gun clubs, in the South and elsewhere, who either made their presence known or outright surrounded or stood guard for a protest,” Grauer added.

Douglas Worthen, a firearms instructor in Irvington, argues that historically, gun laws in the U.S. have targeted and criminalized minority communities and that some of New Jersey’s recent gun restrictions are no exception.

Historians recently have uncovered how the Second Amendment and several gun laws enacted around the country’s founding were rooted in racism 

“Black ancestors … at one point couldn’t even possess any firearms at all,” Worthen said. “The infringement on people of color in this country has been around for a very, very long time. It still exists present-day, but just has a different form.”

Worthen objects to recently passed legislation that imposes sweeping handgun-free zones at most places across the state saying people won’t be allowed to defend themselves in an emergency outside the home. And increasing fees associated with obtaining a permit to carry will make it more cost-prohibitive for many in his community.

“When [people] see these fees, they get discouraged and are like ‘you know what, I’m not paying that,’” Worthen said.

A 2022 New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center report found that Black and Hispanic gun owners are several times more likely to carry a firearm outside the home than white gun owners.

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